It's been knocked off the front page now with word that a doctor in New York City has the disease, but there's been some pretty good news this week when it comes to Ebola in America.
- Only two weeks after being hospitalized, nurse Nina Pham was today declared to be free of Ebola and released from the hospital. Supposedly she has a boyfriend, his existence was mentioned several times in the week after her diagnosis, but he seems to have disappeared. If he existed at all. At this point it seems that Pham did not transmit the disease to anyone else.
- The second nurse infected in Texas, Amber Vinson, was also declared virus free this week in what was a remarkable recovery time. It is now two weeks since her flight to Ohio and so far there are no reports of Ebola transmission to any of her contacts there or on her return flight. Technically another week to 10 days need to pass for the all clear, but it's encouraging that no related cases have cropped up yet.
- The relatives of the original Ebola patient, Thomas Duncan, who died on Oct. 8 were released from quarantine in Dallas after showing no sign of infection after 21 days. Given the close contact they had in the days before Duncan was hospitalized, that's very good news for the rest of us as well.
- Another Ebola patient that we didn't know about was cured and released from Emory University on the 19th. It's somewhat disturbing that news about him was kept from us, but I'll take another victory against Ebola.
The above should provide some calming context for absorbing the news about the doctor in New York.
That said, it is not exactly reassuring that once again we have a health care worker, one who had been directly working with Ebola patients, contracting the disease and mingling with the American public only hours before symptoms became bad enough to trigger alarm.
Three people were close enough to him that they have been quarantined/isolated from the public for now. Health officials say the risk that he infected anyone else while he was going around the city the last few days was "minimal," though it's not zero. And, of course. the risk to his caregivers the next few weeks will be very high. Assuming that none of them contract the disease, there will still be several weeks that we have to wait and see if anyone in the general public was infected.
In a best case scenario that is going to get old fast, especially if new cases start the cycle all over again, which is starting to appear likely under current policies. Especially if current policies mean we'll be treated to this sort of nonsense:
At a press conference Thursday night, officials claimed that Spencer had mostly “stayed at home” since his return.
“We don’t want to give the impression he self-quarantined, but he did limit his contact,” said Dr. Mary Travis Bassett, head of the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
“He did attempt to self-isolate,” she told reporters.
Still, officials conceded that Spencer had also made numerous excursions around the city in the days before he was diagnosed.
That included riding the subway, walking the High Line, taking the Uber car and, on Wednesday night — even as he was already feeling fatigued, according to officials — taking a three-mile run and spending the evening bowling.
The self-isolated man was out in public more than me this week. And, you know, that sort of mealy-mouthed spinning doesn't exactly inspire confidence with the public.
We're going to reach a tipping point with a few more cases, and at this point it seems certain we'll see them. Either the American public is going to accept living with the risks, as low as they may be they're still real, or we can come up with a better way to manage travellers from Ebola-stricken countries.
Step one in my book is to temporarily limit visas outside of non-essential travel.
Step two would be isolation and close monitoring for at least two weeks. If, after 14 days, there are no symptoms and a blood test is negative then the individual could be released to self-monitor for the remaining week.
This would not guarantee that Ebola wouldn't find its way to the general public, but I've pretty much had it with people who make the perfect the enemy of the good. The hell with strawmen such as "we can't cut ourselves off from the world." Those are weasel words from the unimaginative, lazy, and incompetent. Yes, it would cost money and yes it would take a lot of effort. The alternative, given current policy, is to simply resign ourselves to more cases arriving in the US and playing defense after that.
A little more offense from our public health officials please. It's both possible and reasonable to expect that.
More: I should add that I have two sisters and a brother-in-law in Brooklyn right now(My niece and nephew are off at school upstate). I wouldn't say I'm worried for them at this point, but I'm definitely unhappy that Ebola has landed across the East River. Nothing to do but wait and see what happens.